Freed from shackles, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh on the threshold of change

The troubled northern state of Jammu & Kashmir joined India’s mainstream 72 years since the country’s independence when the Lower House of Parliament, Lok Sabha, on Tuesday passed a resolution removing the special status it enjoyed under Article 370 of the Constitution.

The House also approved the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation bill splitting the state into two union territories, Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature and Ladakh without legislature ruled directly by the central government.

 The resolution and the bill were already approved by the Upper House or Rajya Sabha late on Monday.

Hailing their passage in both Houses, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his tweet that for decades, vested interest groups in power indulged in emotional blackmail and never cared for people’s empowerment. The state is finally free from their shackles.

 The resolution to remove the state’s special status by scrapping Article 370 was adopted with 351 members voting for and 72 voting against.
The Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation bill allowing the division of the state was approved with 370 votes in favour and 70 against.

‘Taking back PoK next goal’

Home Minister Amit Shah promised both Houses to restore statehood to Jammu & Kashmir as soon as normalcy returns.

He said the central government will initiate steps to improve the lives of the people in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh in five years. 

As soon as Shah moved the resolution and bill in Lok Sabha, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary interjected, asking him whether Jammu & Kashmir was an integral part of India since, according to him, the UN had been monitoring the situation there since 1948.

Chaudhary’s question shocked the House, including Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, as it implied that he favoured third party intervention in Jammu & Kashmir, which is India’s internal issue.

Shah shot back by asking Chaudhary whether Congress party wanted UN to meddle in Jammu & Kashmir.

Shah also wanted to know whether Chaudhary believes Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) is not part of India.

He said the central government’s next goal will be taking back PoK which rightfully belongs to India.

Seeking Governor’s assent questioned

Congress leader Manish Tiwari said Shah’s government broke laws by splitting Jammu & Kashmir.

Tiwari asked the government why it did not consult people of the region before dividing the state.

There was no constituent assembly in place to approve it and getting assent from Governor Satyalpal Malik was unconstitutional, he said.

Delving into history, Tiwari said Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad are now integral part of India because of late Congress leader and the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru sent forces to Kashmir after the then ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, signed the instrument of accession and to Hyderabad after reports of accumulation of arms by the forces of Nizam Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi.

‘Dark day’ remark defended

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor reaffirmed his party’s stand that it was dark day for democracy.

The presidential decree on Jammu & Kashmir was issued violating all constitutional norms amid a security lockdown in the region. The removal of special status of Jammu & Kashmir and its bifurcation will only drive more local youths to terrorism, Tharoor said.

The legislations have damaged India’s image abroad. They are the political equivalent of the central government’s demonetisation drive in 2016, he said.

Tharoor expressed concern over the fate of Mehabooba Mufi and Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. He said reports say they have been arrested and their whereabouts are unknown.

‘Debate incomplete without Farooq’

Leader of National Congress Party Supriya Sule questioned the bifurcation of the state and wanted to know when elections will be held in Jammu & Kashmir.

Pointing to the empty seat of Omar’s father and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, Sule said the debate on Jammu & Kashmir is incomplete without him.

Shah said Farooq has not been detained and if he has skipped the debate, the government cannot be blamed.

DMK’s lawmaker TR Balu said the bill does not reflect the will of the people. He wanted to know why the local stakeholders were not consulted and how cross-border terrorism is going to be stopped by merely scrapping Article 370 and Article 35A.

Shah intervened and said the Parliament, which represents India’s 1.3 billion people, is also a stakeholder. The opposition should not ignore the will of tens of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus who were driven out of the region in 1990.

Day of redemption’

Taking on the opposition, Union minister Jitendra Singh said it was not a dark day, but a day of redemption and rejuvenation. The incumbent government corrected a blunder committed by a Congress government more than seven decades ago.

Then home minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, was not involved in the handling of Kashmir situation after Pakistan triggered a war over the then princely state of Jammu & Kashmir between 1947 and 1948, Singh said.

Nehru declared unilateral ceasefire when Indian forces were driving out Pakistani intruders. Had Nehru not committed that blunder, there would have been no Pakistan occupied Kashmir and no Article 370, he said.

Nehru regarded Article 370 as a temporary provision and former chief minister and National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah said in a speech it could act as a stumbling block. Why Congress leaders, Farooq, Omar and others should oppose it, Singh asked.

The minister, who hails from Jammu, said Article 370 facilitated promoters of terrorism. While people in Jammu & Kashmir are rejoicing over the abrogation of Article 370, selfish leaders of the region are still stuck in the past.

Jammu & Kashmir is moving on. Youths have high aspirations. Many of them are joining the civil service or working as engineers after graduating from top central institutes, he added.

Voice of Ladakh

First time MP from Ladakh Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, 34, became the star of the debate as he spoke about a backward and neglected region where “not one speck of grass grows”, as some opposition lawmakers put it scornfully.

Namgyal said that over the past seven decades, Ladakh remained stuck in an obscure corner because of the utter negligence of successive Congress governments at the centre and regional governments headed by Abdullahs’ National Conference (NC) and Muftis’ People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Ladakh’s development, political aspiration, identity and language all got lost because of Article 370, Congress, NC and PDP. Finally, the Modi government helped Ladakh by setting up a university, Namgyal said.

With Ladakh now becoming a union territory under central rule, funds are expected to flow to the region for development and various welfare schemes.

Shah said Article 370 had been dividing Jammu & Kashmir from the mainstream. It only helped successive provincial governments to violate the rights of minorities and women with impunity.

He blamed Article 370 and Article 35A for the killings of more than 41,000 people in the region since 1989.